True Luxe, Four-up

Steffan Jahn

Bentley Mulsanne

Olde-worlde English luxury fuses with distinctive Teutonic undertones.

Originally, Bentley had planned to derive its Mulsanne flagship from the aluminum-spaceframe architecture of the Audi A8, but when management ran out of time and money, the classic steel-intensive approach prevailed. As a result, the Mulsanne tips the scales at 5976 pounds. That's the bad news. The good news concerns the flagship's vaultlike solidity; it feels as if it were machined from one big chunk of iron. The doors swing open with a self-conscious inertia of their own, the chromed buttons and levers latch and lock like the innards of a church-tower clock, the massive woodwork and thick leather trim look as if they'll see it through to the next millennium. This indestructible heaviness also prevails under the skin, where we find a spiderlike subframe cradling the engine, a multilink rear axle suspended on air springs and adjustable dampers, and four ventilated brake discs seemingly modeled after cast-iron manhole covers.

Despite the long wheelbase and the trick suspension, the big Bentley doesn't ride very well around town. When it encounters deep potholes and sharp transverse irritations, the Mulsanne reacts in a formal and firm fashion. Its brakes respond promptly and with reassuring bite, but it takes some effort to reel in all that momentum from triple-digit speeds. Within city limits, the steering is much too heavy. On the open road, the broad-shouldered but narrow-eyed cruiser frowns at every high-velocity direction change and cites mild understeer when asked to describe its favorite demeanor. However, should his lordship at the wheel feel inclined to switch off stability control, the prince of whales will happily display its considerable power-oversteer talents. What neutralizes all that weight with overwhelming ease is the 505-hp twin-turbo V-8, which hurls the imposing carriage from 0 to 60 mph in only 5.1 seconds. Mated to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, the 6.8-liter powerplant features cylinder deactivation and variable valve timing. Although the engine is redlined at a defensive 4500 rpm, the altar-shaped wire-mesh grille keeps slicing insects to 184 mph.

The Mulsanne's exquisite driver environment has all the elements you expect to see in a Bentley, such as organ-stop air vents, a knurled-chrome gear selector, glossy mirror-finish timber, and a commanding view over one of the world's longest hoods. There is plenty of room in the front as well as in the rear, where you are enthroned on diamond-quilted, power-operated chairs, rest your feet on lamb's-wool rugs, and put your hands on tray tables that extend with a continuous, smooth motion. The cabin radiates a grand atmosphere reminiscent of the smoking room at an old-fashioned men's club, which confirms that the Bentley is the epitome of yesterday's idea of luxury. Everything about this car is stately: the way it looks, smells, feels, drives. The infotainment system is nonetheless up-to-date, and handling and roadholding rate four out of five stars. Just don't expect to be spoiled by the latest driver-assistance systems or an equivalent to BMW's driving-experience selector.

Range Rover vs. Mulsanne? The SUV is lighter, nimbler, and more maneuverable -- and it's more fun to drive, at least on the low side of 125 mph. The Bentley is a torque monster that celebrates the marque's history by ticking all the boxes that mattered in the past but probably not enough of those that matter today and tomorrow.

Bentley Mulsanne
BASE PRICE:
$302,425

POWERTRAIN
ENGINE:
16-valve OHV twin-turbocharged V-8
DISPLACEMENT: 6.8 liters (412 cu in)
POWER: 505 hp @ 4200 rpm
TORQUE: 752 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic
DRIVE: Rear-wheel

CHASSIS
STEERING:
Electrohydraulically assisted
FRONT SUSPENSION: Control arms, air springs
REAR SUSPENSION: Multilink, air springs
BRAKES: Vented discs, ABS
TIRES: Dunlop SP Sport Maxx
TIRE SIZE: 265/40R-21 (108Y)

MEASUREMENTS
L x W x H:
219.5 x 86.9 x 59.9 in
WHEELBASE: 128.6 in
TRACK F/R: 63.6/65.0 in
WEIGHT: 5976 lb
CARGO CAPACITY: 15.6 cu ft
EPA MILEAGE: 11/18 mpg
0-60 MPH: 5.1 sec
TOP SPEED: 184 mph


Ferrari FF

An addictive driver's car and a compromised four-seater.

The FF is the answer to a question nobody asked, yet it would seem to hit a sweet spot in the market. At first glance, the Ferrari may be handicapped by the absence of rear doors, but those who sit in row two are almost always small and agile enough to sneak in and out. And even when traveling four up, the station wagon from Maranello can carry 15.9 cubic feet of luggage. What the FF lacks are sick bags for three of the four crew members. That's because the packaging and visibility in the rear border on claustrophobic, and the front-seat passenger faces an (optional) semianalog rev counter and a digital speedometer sandwiched between the airbag door and the glove box. For the faint-hearted, this may be too much information. For the aficionado, it is of course thrilling to watch firsthand how the normally aspirated 6.3-liter V-12 whips through seven gears, keeps brushing the 8200-rpm redline, and recites a musical spectrum that ranges from Mahler to Metallica.

Sadly, our FF was not a prime specimen. The dual-clutch automatic transmission occasionally behaved in an uncouth manner during the split second it devotes to preselecting the ratio, throttle tip in and tip out were less smooth than we remember, and the car kept lapsing into an ever-so-slight crabbing motion, which might have been caused by the steering or the four-wheel-drive system. One area where a Ferrari almost never goes wrong is performance, and the FF scored full marks. At a factory-measured 3.7 seconds from 0 to 62 mph, the 4145-pound coupe competes in a league of its own among this group, and the same applies to its maximum speed of 208 mph. Although these numbers read like a dream come true, the prancing horse needs suitable terrain to show its full potential. On a German autobahn, the jet-engine-like acceleration from 125 to 170 mph is an experience you will never delete from your mind's memory stick. But on British country roads, where 60-mph-and-lower speed limits prevail, the Italian stallion rarely passes from jog to trot. Underchallenged and overmotivated, you either shift into drive and give up or you keep roaring up the rev ladder in the bottom three gears like a hooligan approaching retirement.

With the manettino in Race mode, all it takes to extract some attitude from the 295/35YR-20 Pirellis is an open second-gear corner. When you set spurs to it, this is a lovely car -- progressive, responsive, impressive. But it takes warm tires, hot brakes, and the right habitat to get the best out of the Ferrari, which is then chuckable yet balanced, aggressive but honest, focused and very fast. Slow down, and the suspension seems frozen even with the dampers in their softest setting, the tires trade tenacious grip for dedicated tramlining, and the steering feels slightly wooden around the straight-ahead position. It's a black-or-white car, the FF. It shines when put to the test, but it loses interest when relegated to the mundane. True, the fascination of the 651-hp engine will outlast every traffic jam, the tastefully appointed cabin has a special charm of its own, and the highly involving driver interface -- paddles, manettino, steering, pedals -- keeps the adrenaline flowing. But in the final analysis, this is a Sunday morning plaything, a special sports car for special occasions.

Range Rover vs. FF? There is very little overlap here. The Range Rover shines off-road, where the Ferrari will never venture. The Ferrari longs for a day at the racetrack, where the Range Rover would go only if it were towing a trailer.

Ferrari FF
BASE PRICE:
$302,450

POWERTRAIN
ENGINE:
48-valve DOHC V-12
DISPLACEMENT: 6.3 liters (382 cu in)
POWER: 651 hp @ 8000 rpm
TORQUE: 504 lb-ft @ 6000 rpm
TRANSMISSIONS: 7-speed automatic (rear), 2-speed automatic (front)
DRIVE: 4-wheel

CHASSIS
STEERING:
Hydraulically assisted
FRONT SUSPENSION: Control arms, coil springs
REAR SUSPENSION: Multilink, coil springs
BRAKES: Vented carbon-ceramic discs, ABS
TIRES: Pirelli PZero
TIRE SIZES F, R: 245/35R-20 (95Y), 295/35R-20 (105Y)

MEASUREMENTS
L x W x H:
193.2 x 76.9* x 54.3 in
WHEELBASE: 117.7 in
TRACK F/R: 66.0/65.4 in
WEIGHT: 4145 lb
CARGO CAPACITY: 15.9 cu ft
EPA MILEAGE: 11/16 mpg
0-62 MPH: 3.7 sec
TOP SPEED: 208 mph *not including mirrors


Rolls-Royce Phantom

Not flawless but a hoot to drive and an unrivaled statement.

If you're not stinking rich, you either need an inflated ego or very big sunglasses to feel at home in the Phantom. Out of these five cars, the Rolls-Royce is easily the least understated. This vehicle typically shuttles from one gated gravel driveway to the next, is often used exclusively as short-distance special-occasion transport, and has an unmistakable silhouette that tends to say more about the owner hiding behind the wide C-pillars than about the salaried driver up front. If those back-benchers only knew what they are missing by letting their chauffeur have all the fun. Admittedly, the first encounter with the bold behemoth can be a real culture shock. At 230 inches long, the XXL radiator grille with motorcar attached seems much too large for congested driving environments. The novice's biggest worry will likely be the grand turning circle, which measures 45.3 feet in this regular-wheelbase test car. Although the Rolls brandishes more cameras per square foot than Fort Knox, it takes a captain's license to steer the HMS Phantom safely through the rush-hour tide.

First released in 2003, the Phantom is showing its age, even though it was mildly restyled and updated for 2013. The lidded seat controls in the center console are a nuisance, the level of available technology doesn't match that of the latest BMW 7-series, the suicide doors are an increasingly inconvenient marketing ploy, and the rear seats are in need of an update. Although you can specify a variety of different shapes and upholsteries, the "lounge" configuration that we sampled neither looked nor felt sufficiently special. Rounded off at the sides, the three-seat sofa is reasonably comfy, but it drew criticism for the lack of lateral support, the comparatively modest amount of legroom, and the lack of adjustment range (throwing more money at the Phantom addresses these complaints). We applaud the contemporary approach to luxury interpreted so well by Rolls-Royce, but a brand that claims to set the pace at the top end of the premium league should provide even more space, more variety, and more flair to the check-writing elite.

The Phantom engine has twelve cylinders, but although its "6.75-litre" displacement is within one cubic centimeter of the Mulsanne's V-8, the Rolls musters a more moderate 453 hp and only 531 instead of 752 lb-ft of torque. When the flag drops, however, and the two big sedans vroom from 0 to 60 mph, Goodwood loses only 0.6 second to Crewe. Despite the touchy steering and thin-rimmed wheel, the initially grabby brakes, the relaxed eight-speed transmission, and the fixed chassis calibration, the Rolls quickly grows on the keen driver. The Phantom is surprisingly stable, keeps its sumo body in check at all times, and combines benign handling with exemplary comfort. Generous wheel travel and proactive air dampers create a proper magic carpet ride. The Phantom flies, wafts, and glides as if it were part hovercraft.

Range Rover vs. Phantom? One English icon meets another. The Rolls-Royce is much more visible, expressive, and extroverted. It is a relatively modern conveyor of a positively conservative message. But when it comes to the best back seats, the showdown is between the Bentley and the Range Rover.

Rolls-Royce Phantom sedan
BASE PRICE:
$403,570

POWERTRAIN
ENGINE:
48-valve DOHC V-12
DISPLACEMENT: 6.7 liters (412 cu in)
POWER: 453 hp @ 5350 rpm
TORQUE: 531 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic
DRIVE: Rear-wheel

CHASSIS
STEERING:
Hydraulically assisted
FRONT SUSPENSION: Control arms, coil springs
REAR SUSPENSION: Multilink, coil springs
BRAKES: Vented discs, ABS
TIRES: Goodyear Eagle NCT5
TIRE SIZES F, R: 255/50R-21 106W, 285/45R-21 109W

MEASUREMENTS
L x W x H
: 230.0 x 78.3 x 64.5 in
WHEELBASE: 140.6 in
TRACK F/R: 66.4/65.8 in
WEIGHT: 5840 lb
CARGO CAPACITY: 16.2 cu ft
EPA MILEAGE: 11/19 mpg
0-60 MPH: 5.7 sec
TOP SPEED: 149 mph

Jeffrey Bo Thompson
I have a 2008 Sport Supercharged Range Rover that I would not trade for anything , except for a 1971 280 SL or a 1966 Austin-HealeyMark III   {BJ8} !!!
grom
and yep, test result is a nonsense
grom
"It also is one of the prettiest four-door cars on the planet"you guys need to ask someone with better taste for this stuff.. it's just UGLY car as like as FF. 
grom
i'll pick Panamera Turbo or BMW M6 Gran Coupe coz it's just better engineered cars with less price.
Noah Feldman
This is an AWESOME article all five of my most favorite road rockets and one monster truck. :)
Jason Bungard
Do the editors of 'Automobile' have a grudge against Porsche? Honestly, what is your problem with Porsche? There is no sane reason to exclude the Panamera from this test. A four-seat Ferrari was entered, even though it 'answers a question no one asked' and 'is unlikely to rank high on the shopping list'. But no four-door Panamera? Don't like the Panamera's looks? Compared to a hump-backed Ferrari hot hatch, the Panamera holds it's own. Pick a GTS, Turbo, or Turbo S, and decide how bad you want the competition to get smeared. Stop hating the Panamera and admit that it truly does own this field.
Cardcar
@Jason Bungard The Panamera does not play in this league.
grom
@Cardcar @Jason Bungard lol whut? u look so stupid after these words!

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